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Dixieland Goes Progressive

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Ever sit down to a meal and find yourself loving food you never liked before? Your change of heart often is the result of an ingredient or a special preparation that makes the dish downright delicious. It could be fish with an amazing mustard sauce or broccoli with caraway and toasted almonds.

I'm that way with Dixieland. Never cared much for it, probably because it has always sounded to me like New Orleans jazz scrubbed of its soul. But in the case of the albums I'm posting about today, the game-changing ingredient was progressive jazz arrangements.

It's a strange concept combining the rigid madness of Dixieland instruments coming and going with the cohesive cool of modern jazz. But it worked on two albums—Modern Jazz With Dixieland Roots and Dixieland Goes Progressive. The former was recorded in February 1956 for the ABC-Paramount label, while the latter followed in June 1957 for Golden Crest Records. 

In the 1950s, New Orleans and Chicago jazz was still beloved by an older generation of listeners who never made the leap to bebop's jagged melody lines and frantic tempo or the sophistication of cool jazz. Their ear needed the blue sound of a clarinet, the taut energy of a coronet and the slurring melancholy of a trombone all frantically interacting like city traffic in a 1920s newsreel or comedy.

Younger listeners found jazz from New Orleans and Chicago painfully stuffy. By uniting the two styles, the strategy was to attract the “moldy figs" and the “young turks," resulting, I suppose, in Turkish figs. Sorry, a little Friday humor. These two albums are sensational on every level. The playing is terrific and so are the arrangements that bridge the jazz styles neatly.

Modern Jazz With Dixieland Roots featured the Don Stratton Quintet. The songs Black Bottom, Sunday, Wigglin' an' Gigglin', Moxahala and What Is This Thing Called Love featured Stratton (tp), Dick Hafer (ts), John Williams (p) and Chuck Andrus (b) and Karl Kiffe (d).

On R.H.S., Royal Garden Blues, Charleston, Sow Goo Mang and Yesterdays, the same group was featured, but with Phil Sunkel (tp) and David Mckenna (p) replacing Hafer and Williams. The album was album was produced by Creed Taylor, who was enormously innovative. [Photo above of Don Stratton]

Dixieland Goes Progressive in '57 was split between two groups—one led by Dick Cary and the other by John Plonsky. The Dick Cary group played Mahogany Hall, Muskrat Ramble, That's a Plenty, St. James Infirmary, At the Darktown Strutters' Ball and Millenberg Joys. The band featured Johnny Glasel (tp), Dick Cary, (tp,alto-hrn), Urbie Green (tb), Bob Wilber (cl,ts), Hall Overton (p), Sal Salvador (g), Will Stanley (b,tuba) and Jerry Segal (d).

The Plonsky group played Royal Garden Blues, High Society, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Basin Street Blues, When the Saints Go Marching In and South Rampart Street Parade. The band included Plonsky (tp), Urbie Green (tb), Bill Barber (tuba), Carl Janelli (cl), Tony Aless (p), Don Arnone (g), Jack Zimmerman (b) and Mel Zelnick (d).

In each case, the groups assume the spirit of New Orleans and Chicago jazz but with a relaxed, straight-ahead feel. There are warm, wonderful solos by Hafer, Green, Plonsky, Cary and others. Marrying the two styles of jazz this way was a stroke of genius. What we wind up with has much in common with West Coast jazz. At any rate, there's something here for every ear.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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